Shake Your Sodium Habit for Nutrition Month

AMES, Iowa — March is National Nutrition Month, and this year the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics encourages Americans to “Get your plate in shape.” The academy conducts the annual nutrition month campaign to help the public better understand how to make informed food choices and develop sound eating and physical activity habits.

Sarah Francis “One way to get your plate in shape is to reduce the amount of sodium in your diet,” said Sarah Francis, an Iowa State University assistant professor and ISU Extension and Outreach nutrition specialist.

The 2010 Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommend decreasing daily sodium intakes to less than 2,300 milligrams (mg) daily. An additional reduction to 1,500 mg of sodium daily is recommended for adults age 51 and older, African Americans (regardless of age) or those with high blood pressure, diabetes or chronic kidney disease. The1,500 mg of sodium recommendation applies to about half of the U.S. population, Francis noted.

“A common first step toward lowering sodium intake is to remove the salt shaker from the table,” Francis said. “However, the majority of sodium comes from commonly consumed foods. Currently, Americans are getting about 3,400 mg of sodium daily. Nearly two-thirds (65 percent) of our sodium intake is due to the food purchased at retail stores. More than 40 percent of our sodium intake comes from snack foods — such as chips, pretzels or popcorn — deli or pre-packaged meats, breads and rolls, pizza, soups, sandwiches — including cheeseburgers and cheese — pasta dishes, and fresh and processed poultry. Another large contributor to our high sodium intake is eating out.”

Reducing sodium intake can be challenging, given busy lifestyles that have become increasingly more dependent on fast and easy meals as well as taste preferences, Francis said. “Try incorporating one or more of these steps to help move you closer to the goal of 1,500 to 2,300 mg of sodium.

  • Compare sodium in foods and choose those with the least amount of sodium listed on the Nutrition Facts Panel.
  • Season foods with spices or herbs instead of salt.
  • When eating out, ask for dressings and sauces to be “on the side,” Francis said. “Instead of pouring them on the food, dip your fork in the dressing or sauce, then use your fork to pick up the bite of food. This way you will get the flavor, but not the extra sodium. Also, try meat options that do not have a ‘rub,’ because they are usually higher in sodium.”
  • If eating a processed food item such as a frozen meal, add fresh fruit and vegetables to complete the meal without adding sodium.
  • When choosing snack foods, look for low- or reduced-sodium options.

Live Healthy Iowa

Teams can still join the Live Healthy Iowa 100-Day Challenge. This team-based weight loss and physical activity program helps Iowans make positive changes that lead to a healthier lifestyle. For more information or to register, visit Live Healthy Iowa is a partnership of the Iowa Department of Public Health, Iowa Sports Foundation and Iowa State University Extension and Outreach.

For more information on nutrition and health or to receive a weekly e-mail from ISU Extension and Outreach including a food, recipe and activity of the week, visit